Dodecatheon at Deception Butte


Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)

Although the promised sunny day didn’t really materialize until after we got back to the car, Sabine and I had a good trip to Deception Butte near Oakridge yesterday (May 12). It was a last-minute decision to head up to this relatively low-elevation, rocky knob after I remembered that there was Dodecatheon pulchellum up there growing in a very similar situation to the ones at Cloverpatch, and I wanted to continue to survey and collect at my known populations. Being a botanist—not an ardent hiker—we headed up to the upper trailhead (accessed from Road 549 off of 5847). This makes the trip quite short, although it is still steep and rocky.

The open rocky slope was not as far along as I’d hoped, in spite of being south-facing and only 3500′ in elevation. Both Lomatium hallii and L. utriculatum were in bloom, along with a few of their close relative, Sanicula graveolens. Lots of things were showing promise of a great bloom in the next few weeks, however, and as we traversed the open area, we found more Delphinium menziesii in bloom along with a few early Castilleja hispida, Romanzoffia californica, and Cascadia nuttallii. The tiny Collinsia parviflora and Mimulus alsinoides were also in bloom. The madrones are gorgeous up there. The ones up at our level were in bud, but we could see them blooming a couple of hundred feet below near the bottom of the open area. Tempting as it was to go down the slope to see what else might be further along, I could imagine how my calves would feel trying to get back up to the top, so I settled for binoculars to explore the lower areas.

Dodecatheon pulchellum

Dodecatheon pulchellum

Happily, the seeps I remembered at the east end did indeed have blooming Dodecatheon pulchellum. It really is an early bloomer. Another week and it might have been largely finished. We noticed how few of the hundreds of rosettes actually bloom. Although it wasn’t putting on a great show of color, each little plant that did carry a blossom or two was gem-like in its beauty.

Dodecatheon pulchellum

Various stages in the blossoms of Dodecatheon pulchellum (including being eaten!)

As at Cloverpatch, I found it fascinating how the flowering stem is always changing. The early buds stand erect in a clump at the top of the stem. As they mature, they start to bend downward. When the bud opens, the petals point forward, similar to most flowers. But then they flip backwards, revealing the “beak” formed by the stamens with their fused filaments surround the stigma. Shooting stars are buzz-pollinated. The buzzing of the bees as they clasp the downward-facing flowers shakes the pollen out onto the bee. The petals would be in the way if they weren’t swept back. Once the flower is pollinated, the stem straightens out again. The mature capsules stand upright, open at the top, and become quite stiff as they dry out. Many flowers have seed capsules that do this. When an animal walks by, the capsules get jostled and the seeds are flung out. This ensures that the seeds are spread out a ways. If the capsules faced downward, the seeds would all land below the parent plant. How clever nature is with these amazing adaptations! Interestingly though, I could find none of last year’s dried capsules here. At Cloverpatch, they were prominently sticking out of many plants, actually getting in the way of my photographs of the fresh flowers.

Having only been to Deception Butte a couple of times before, and not since 2003 when I knew much less about plants, I figured we’d add many species to my paltry list. Surprisingly, there were only a few additions. These ranged from the almost invisible, tiny annual Stellaria nitens to two large specimen sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana). I don’t see sugar pines very often, but there are a number along the nearby Larison Rock trail, so while this wasn’t such a surprise, it was still a happy find.


Not the cutest pika I’ve ever seen, perhaps this one is an old-timer.

After an attempt to head over to nearby Patterson Mountain by the back route was thwarted by snow (a small enough patch that it will most likely melt away in the next few days but big enough not to risk traversing), we stopped at an impressive cliff and talus slope just a short ways from the road. Somehow I’d missed this area on the way out. While Sabine took a short nap, I took a quick look to see if anything was growing on the cliffs. Other than a lot of Penstemon rupicola, it didn’t look too promising, but that was no matter—there were pikas cheeping away! One stayed out watching me and let me get about 15′ away. This was my first pika sighting of the year. And that was just the icing on the cake of a great wildlife day. On our way out, we were shocked to see about 8 elk hanging out on the railroad track along Hwy 58. This prompted me to tell Sabine how I had seen two bears twice on the road to Deception Butte on my first trip there. The universe must have been listening because on the way up Road 5847, there was a bear! To see the first elk, bear, and pika all in one day was amazing. Perhaps I should have bought a lottery ticket with that kind of luck!

One Response to “Dodecatheon at Deception Butte”

  • Sabine Dutoit:

    To see elk is a thrill in itself. To see them straddling a railroad track is surreal. How lucky can one be? Yes, it rains a lot in Eugene, but oh the rewards.

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